Sadaf Atarod: So what does Sciscmic envision? Tell us a bit more about your story.
Elizabeth Wu: We started Scismic to help scientists, much like ourselves, find training environments that nurture their career progression. We have realised that unhappy lab experiences may be due to the lab not being the right match. And, that this in turn results in a loss of talent and opportunity to push science forward. To address this problem and keep researchers motivated, as well as to foster their talent, we started up Scismic. It provides information on lab environments, and allows researchers to find labs that meet their needs.
SA: How many co-founders are there and how did you all meet?
EW: We are three co-founders who met in academia some years ago. We saw that a mismatch in training priorities led to dissatisfaction, which went on to decreased productivity and sometimes anxiety and depression. We connected with each other in wanting to find a way to match the right training environments with a postdoc and grad student’s training needs.
SA: It is definitely a very interesting model, but how do you curate the data from labs and what they offer?
EW: Our database, called Lab Seeker, shows lab reviews based on user-provided information from our lab survey. Identity of reviewers is confidential. Researchers can easily sign up and complete the survey for the labs they have worked at to provide a rating of those labs for the set of criteria covered: mentorship, management, work life balance, funding, and institutional policy. In turn, scientists looking for labs can access this searchable database for free and find out what the strong points of each lab might be and whether it matches their own training needs.
SA: Do you collect information on how long a postdoc takes in a lab?
EW: That’s a good question. We do collect data on how long an average postdoc takes at a specific lab. The questions are almost all multiple choice and as objective as possible.
SA: Who are the main target users of Scismic?
EW: Anyone planning to do research in an academic lab. Laboratory interns, research assistants, grad students, post docs etc.
SA: Have you received any support from the PI’s?
EW: The PIs that we have approached are quite supportive and do believe that researchers should have quality information on how to select their lab. We have even had a few PIs officially endorse us. The late Dr. Ben Barres from Stanford actually contributed questions and helped us shape the survey. Researchers shouldn't be just following the science, all the other factors that they need to consider are also important in their training.
SA: Can PIs sign in and see if they are on the database?
EW: Definitely, they can sign up and see if they have been rated on the website. However, they can’t see who rated them.
SA: So what can we do on our part to help collect this information?
EW: We need more users to register to build the database. The more researchers that sign up and complete our survey, the more data we can have on board to help others choose their best fit lab.This is a chance for scientists to help each other by highlighting their training experiences.
SA: How is Scismic different from Rate my Professors?
EW: Rate my Professor is focused on the teaching quality of professors. Scismic focuses on the research training ability of a PI. We provide more detail, questions are more objective, and we evaluate the entire experience, including institutional policy. We provide a well-rounded view of the environment.
SA: What is your umbrella view for how Scismic can be utilised?
EW: We want to increase transparency of what training environments are, so that researchers can choose labs based on their training styles. I'd love for it to be used as a reliable metric for evaluation. We also recognise that if you are a newly established PI, and if one person evaluates you poorly, it may have an impact on your rating. However, we do not intend for it to endanger the career of a young PI, but to reflect the overall lab environment. For this reason, we make the number of raters visible to users while maintaining user anonymity. We are also constantly thinking of ways to ensure user security and address this concern of PIs.
SA: Are your users just based in the life sciences?
EW: Currently, we are focused on life sciences but in no way restricted and therefore, open to other fields too.
SA: What do you envision the next step for Scismic to be?
EW: We are working to allow it to suggest labs based on the researcher’s preferences. In the future we also envision helping scientists find empowering jobs both in academic and non-academic roles.
Sadaf Atarod, PhD. is dedicated to transferring more bench-side knowledge to bedside. Thus, improving patient treatment outcome has been the central focus of her career to-date. She was awarded her Ph.D. degree in the Molecular Biology of Bone Marrow & Stem Cell Transplantation. Currently, she is a Postdoctoral Associate at the Center for Regenerative Medicine of Boston University and Boston Medical Center. In her present research, Sadaf is investigating the biomechanical determinants of lung cell fate. Her research involves using stem cells for tissue engineering applications. She is passionate about public engagement, science communication and mentoring the next generation to kick start their careers in science & technology!